The Cleveland Indians need a starting pitcher for Saturday's doubleheader against Kansas City in Jacobs Field, so it's audition week for the Buffalo Bisons' rotation.
The logical choice would be Buffalo ace Kyle Denney, because Saturday would be his natural turn to pitch. The only problem is that Denney is in his worst rut of the season. The right-hander went just 5 1/3 innings and took the loss Monday night as the Richmond Braves posted a 6-3 win over the Herd in the opener of a four-game series in Dunn Tire Park.
Denney is 7-2 with a 4.04 earned-run average this season but was touched for five runs Monday. You could look at Denney's performance in two ways: It was his first loss in his last nine starts but it also extended his winless streak to four outings.
More alarming is Denney's work over his last three starts -- no wins and an 8.04 ERA.
"It's not really conceivable for me to say I'm ready to go to the big leagues right now," Denney said quietly. "I'm not. Early in the year, I was. All I can do is continue to fight through this and continue to battle. Hopefully, next time out -- wherever it may be -- I can get back on the right track."
Denney went 4-0 over his first six starts but hasn't been the same pitcher since suffering a knee sprain May 15 at Columbus and going on the disabled list for 2 1/2 weeks. The knee, however, hasn't been much of an issue. Erratic breaking balls have been a bigger problem.
"Obviously I didn't locate (pitches) at all and when I made mistakes they made me pay for it tonight," Denney said. "When I missed, they did the job. It was a lousy day. The guys battled and I'm supposed to keep us in the game but I couldn't do that."
An announced crowd of 6,510 saw the Bisons stake Denney to a 3-1 lead thanks to Ernie Young's two-run homer in the second (his 20th of the season) and Brandon Phillips' RBI single in the fourth. But Denney gave it right back in a two-run Richmond fifth that included a leadoff double by No. 9 hitter Jorge Velandia, one of his three hits.
"He didn't use his breaking ball where he should have that inning," said manager Marty Brown. "And then he got himself in trouble having to make a pitch."
Denney's night ended in the sixth when leadoff man Dewayne Wise took a hanging change-up the opposite way to left for a two-run homer that snapped a 3-3 tie.
It could have been even worse for Denney were it not for sensational defensive plays behind him by second baseman Brent Abernathy that left two on in the Richmond third and first baseman Russell Branyan in the fifth.
So if not Denney, who might get the call from Cleveland?
Tonight's starter, Kenny Rayborn, is 6-2 with a 3.05 ERA. Francisco Cruceta (3-1, 2.25 in four starts) is slated to go Wednesday on the heels of his three-hitter Friday against Scranton that earned him International League pitcher of the week honors. Chad Durbin (3-3, 3.46) is supposed to go Thursday. If one of them gets a quick hook, or doesn't make their start at all, you've probably got your answer.
"I hope this wouldn't affect them," Brown said. "I'd like to think they're going to go out and pitch their game no matter what."
Eleven of the last 12 Buffalo hitters were retired Monday. The Herd's last threat died at the right-field warning track when catcher Sandy Martinez's towering fly ball that would have produced a three-run homer and a 6-5 lead in the sixth fell just short.
"I guess he hit it too high," Brown said. "The wind was tricky tonight, blowing in from right shooting out from left. I thought that ball was gone and it was a shame because that would have given us a lot of momentum."
Tonight's game (7 p.m., Radio 1520 AM) is Italian Festival Night, with a pregame tent party beginning at 5. A postgame fireworks display will be staged to make up for the one that was canceled Friday after the doubleheader against Scranton stretched until 1:47 a.m.